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Raiders bid for Mohegan falls short

POSTED March 14, 2019
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                WATERBURY – It was a frenzied, frantic, valiant charge. One last ferocious grasp to grab the Mohegan Sun Express.  It was admirable and impressive.  The problem and crushing disappointment when all was done, however, was that Amistad refused to buy into it.

                Torrington High gave the No. 9 Wolves every opportunity to have this one taken away from them in front of a frenetic crowd at Wilby High’s Reggie O’Brien Gymnasium Wednesday night. The Raiders pressed and trapped with desperation intensity. They put the Wolves on the line, hoping for a few misses. The Raiders sank some big shots and cut a nine-point deficit to a basket with two minutes.         

It all wasn’t enough as Amistad held together for a 71-65 victory in the Division III semifinals to earn the school’s  first ever trip to the title game against Farmington Sunday at 1 p.m.

                “If a team gets this far, you have to expect them to make plays and shots and (Amistad) did that,” said Torrington senior guard Dontae Thomas who stood tall in defeat with  22 points.

                The No. 5 Raiders (19-7) looked all but dead and gone with 3:08 left, trailing, 56-47. But dreams die hard and this one wasn’t done yet. Joel Villanueva (22 points) drained a three- pointer from the top of the key and after an Amistad turnover, rebounded a Thomas miss and converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to 56-52.

                Tyreek Davis then came up with a steal and was fouled. He converted both free throws it was a two-point game at the 2:31 mark. All of which created an explosion in the gym from the predominantly Torrington crowd that nearly blew the roof off the old Reg.

                “You have to keep working, the score doesn’t matter as long we were working,” said Thomas. “You always have to think you can come back. We just needed time.”  

                Amistad (18-6) was unfazed. As quick as the miraculous comeback was within reach, as tantalizingly close as that coveted trip to the Sun seemed, it was gone.

                A.J. Edwards hit two free throws and after a Davis pass was stolen Cyprien Joseph found a path in the lane and scored for a 60-54 lead. Torrington would turn the ball over again and Joseph would convert a rebound into a basket at the other end followed by two Eli Blackwell free throws for a 64-54 edge with 1:08 to play.

                Torrington’s day was done. Amistad would leave no more chances. The Wolves were superb from the line in the period, canning 13-of-17 foul shots. Pressure? What pressure?

                “Coach just told us to keep our poise and we called a timeout after Torrington’s comeback and came back with composure,” said Joseph.

                “It’s a game of runs and we practice these types of situations in practice,” added Edwards. “Coach said to stop celebrating, keep our heads in the game and that it was time for people to step up.”

                The fourth quarter was a wild, wacky affair with Torrington outscoring Amistad, 28-27. Villanueva had 11 points and Thomas nine points in the period. Blackwell had 12 of his 21 points in the quarter with a perfect 8-for-8 effort from the foul line.

                “We needed a few more bounces,” said Torrington coach Eric Gamari. “You need things to go your way for a comeback. We didn’t get enough of those things.’

                Like the ending, the game was a roller coaster of stomach flips. Torrington opened up like it would take no prisoners riding seven points from Davis to a quick 9-2 lead.  Amistad missed its firsts six shots, taking nearly half the quarter to finally find the bottom of the net.

                Ahh, but only a mirage. The Wolves found their semifinal legs and went on a tear.  Over the next six minutes into the second quarter, Joseph went off fueling a 21-6 run for a 23-15 lead. Joseph hit a pair of three-pointers, a layup and foul line jumper and an old fashioned three-point play for 13 points as Torrington’s zone was decimated by quickness and the hot hand.

                “It was the first time we came into this with a chance to go to the finals. It was nerves early on,” said Joseph.

                The Wolves took a 44-37 led into the half and extended in the third quarter. A 7-1 run to start the quarter pushed the lead to 51-38 and Torrington was forced to dig down and not let the game slip away.

                “They really jammed us tonight and we did not respond well,” said Gamari.  “We let them push us, something we haven’t done all year. There was a lot of one pass and chuck it. You can’t control how people respond.”

                Clearly the Wolves quickness gave the Raiders some problems.

                “They pressured us and we couldn’t control it,” said Thomas. “We let it slip out of our hands.

                The Raiders were also hampered a bit by the absence of balance. The trio of Thomas, Villanueva and Davis scored 61 of the team’s points.

                The Raiders will appreciate a superb season, but it make take some time. Even Gamari admitted it was a little too soon.

                “It’s a great season but it leaves you wanting a little bit more, one more,” he said.

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